By Matthew Rodriguez

The South Pasadena Arts Council will host a public unveiling of an original mural of Laker legend Kobe Bryant.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the local artists,” SPARC President Sandy Kitto said. “It feels rewarding to bring a project of this stature to completion here in our community.”

Located at the 1020 Mission Street complex in South Pasadena, the 14-by-14-foot mural was painted by renowned artist Jonas Never. It is based on a photo from sports photographer and SPARC board member Andrew Bernstein. Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.

“The mural is another way tangible way to remember him,” Bernstein said. “It’s an incredible honor.”

Never finished the mural in April. On the fifth anniversary of Bryant’s final game, SPARC held a small, private gathering because of COVID-19 restrictions. SPARC will hold the public unveiling at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, two days before what would have been his 43rd birthday.

Throughout the event, music will be performed by the Jaz Sawyer Trio. Beverages and food may be purchased from the Wings N’ Waffles Food Truck. A limited number of posters of the mural signed by the artist and photographer Bernstein will be offered to those who donate to SPARC during the event.

This is an open-air event. However, due to the growing increase in COVID-19 infections, organizers say masks are strongly suggested, regardless of vaccination status.

“The public has never had the opportunity to celebrate the unveiling of this mural,” Bernstein said. “It’ll be a wonderful event for the community to really share this mural, because the mural is for the community.”

Bernstein began his career as a sports photographer in the early 1980s and has worked as the team photographer for all of the Los Angeles sports teams: Clippers, Sparks, Kings, Dodgers and, for the majority of his career, the Lakers. He is the longest-tenured photographer for the National Basketball Association.

He has been at every major moment of Bryant’s career — who played for one team — capturing his achievements and failures.

“My relationship with Kobe goes back to the first day that he became a Laker,” Bernstein said. “I documented all of that journey with him very closely. We collaborated on a book together called the ‘Mamba Mentality: How I Play.’”

Bryant, whose nickname is the Black Mamba, was known for his legendary work ethic called the Mamba Mentality.

“I think so many people identify with Kobe’s work ethic,” Bernstein said. “I’ve been around many, many athletes, and I’ve never witnessed an athlete who had a stronger drive and more committed work ethic than Kobe Bryant.”

Bernstein, who started the project, chose the photograph of Bryant surrounded by fans, walking off the court after his final NBA game. Bryant scored 60 points in this historic game, capping off his 20-year career.

“This photo was the end of the journey,” Bernstein said. “It’s not just a photo from some random game at some point in his career. This was the end of the journey. … It has to be the period at the end of this gigantic sentence, which was his career.”

The mural is meant for the public to remember their favorite memories of Bryant. But as the mural is located next to Bernstein’s office, it provides him a special place where he can feel connected to his late friend.

“I get to see my friend Kobe Bryant every day when I drive into my driveway at work,” Bernstein said. “I don’t get to see him, talk to him, text him, run into him, but I get to see him larger than life depicted in this mural from my photo. Every day I get chills when I drive by it.”

“SPARC is pleased to host the public unveiling of this moving tribute to Kobe Bryant,” said Lissa Reynolds, the organization’s founder.

“My husband James and I have always been huge fans of Kobe, and I watched almost daily as Jonas Never painted the mural, and I was so touched. Jonas has brought Kobe’s presence so vividly to life.”